I had tried to make the appointment for the previous Friday. December 21 was my first day off, the first day of holiday freedom. “We’re a bit busy today, can you come on Monday?” the hairdresser wanted to know. “On the 24th?” I asked, surprised. “Sí, sí,” the woman insisted. I agreed, assuming that the day before Christmas must be a slow one.
When I arrived a few minutes early for my appointment on Christmas Eve, I saw that the place was packed. “Come sit!” one of the hairdressers waved me towards a chair with her blow-dryer. I sat down awkwardly—this was the tilted-backward seat, meant for those who were about to have their head dunked underwater.
It was the fourth or fifth time I’d come to this independent shop to have my hair cut. It’s close to my apartment, the prices are inexpensive, and the hairdressers always treat me kindly—never something to be taken for granted when living abroad. The employees even remember my name. I like to think this is because I hit it off with Sandra, the girl who cut my hair on that first visit—we had to smile when we realized how similar our names were. The real reason they remember me, however, is most likely due to the fact that I bring photos and wild gestures into the shop when I try to explain what I want done to my hair. For all I know, they write “guiri” in the agenda when I ask for an appointment.
Sandra used my name now. “Cassandra, would you mind sitting over there? I have to shampoo someone’s hair.” The rest of the customers and I played musical chairs while waiting our turn. I was now in one of the cutting seats, in front of a mirror studded with movie-star dressing room lights. With the mirror I could observe all three hairdressers and multiple customers—the older gentleman getting his ring of hair trimmed with tiny scissors, a businesswoman having her highlights touched up, and a 30-something woman in sweats getting her hair curled into tight spirals.
I spent a moment watching the spirals—they seemed so out of place with the informality of her dress. The woman had countless layers in her thick hair, and the curls started at the tip-top of her crown, falling in a triangle like a bunch of dark grapes. Her hairstylist, finally satisfied, lacquered the fruit-like sculpture and the effect of cloying hairspray and too-tight ringlets reminded me of prom preparations.
Indeed, it seemed as if every woman aged 30 and up were getting decked out for some sort of formal party. I realized that this was possibly the worst day I could have picked to come in for what I’d described on the phone as “just a trim.”
On the other hand, it was the best day to observe something traditional. Despite all of the customers who were kept waiting–my own noon appointment stretched to 12:45–there was no ill will on this special day. The place was filled with good cheer as customers lazily flipped through fashion magazines, spilling details about Christmas and New Year’s plans. They discussed family arriving, the search for perfect gifts in times of crisis, the first course, the second, the postre. When it came time to have my head dunked under the water, I found that the shampooing took longer than normal; Sandra left me several times to give the customary besos to other women who popped in to wish their neighborhood hairdressers a Merry Christmas. As each customer left, they would wave to other women, wishing all of them happy holidays. When I left, I did the same.
Happy holidays, everyone!